We can’t go on together / with divided minds.—Pseudo Elvis
Last time on @4Q248, i.e. PA.blogspot.com:
We’re not saying life makes people schizo, we’re talking excessive frustration left unprocessed, or regular baseline frustration amplified by unstable parents [and] chaotic environments, charges vectors in the direction of schizo process. This is not necessarily a humanist situation of bad world corrupting sweet child. It’s more related to drive theory, that is, internal conflicts between wishes and fears, desire and defense, etc. To this effect, the question underneath the schizophrenic symptom is «How do I get what I want without hurting or depleting the object that give me what I want?»
What’s the other prevailing theory of how schizophrenia develops? Easy—the double bind. This is not so different than the above theory. A child is presented with an enigmatic (Laplanche) conflict, often between an adult and the child (Ferenczi) that overwhelms them as either answer is the wrong answer (How do I get what I want without hurting the object? turns into ‘I either kill myself or kill the object.’).
248’s talking about the new Joker origin number, which didn’t do anything for me, but that’s fine, because genres are about defining target audiences and encode bundlings of latent values. What I mean is Chinese takeout is for people who like Chinese takeout. 248 says this more concisely than I ever did, which is like fine I guess, I wrote that when I was 20.
If asking «What genre are you?» is in bad taste (or useless) and if we’re keeping with the whole film of our time/genrefluid postmodern (to be vulgar) thingy, then instead of «what genre is [Joker]» I will ask, consistent with our postmodern lens (emphasis on subject over object), «what kind of viewer am I?» which is, I think, a question absolutely essential to this film (and all film)… Joker, whether consciously or unconsciously, was produced with an intended viewer (imaginary other) in mind…
I don’t want to talk about Arthur Fleck or any of those guys. I wanna talk about Charles Freck, in Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, and Robert Arctor, and schizophrenia. I wanna talk about P. K. D.’s love of (surprise) psychoanalysis, and what it means to reconcile inside & outside views.
Bob Arctor is a narc in deep cover. Like the Rust Cohle of True Detective he no doubt inspired, Arctor gets hallucinogenic burnout, starts seeing things, is all paranoid & tripped out. Keeps talking about time as a flat circle.
Here’s how Cohle tells it: I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware. Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself, like that Bosch painting everyone likes.
With Dick it’s exactly the opposite. Passivity is talked about as not just figurative but literal death. That’s what it means to die, to not be able to stop looking at whatever’s in front of you. Some darn thing placed directly there, with nothing you can do about it such as selecting anything or changing anything. You can only accept what’s put there as is. Hold it, I hear you say. Passivity is activity’s opposite, not consciousness’s. But what is intelligence if not the ability to notice a pattern and optimize accordingly? To notice and break out, to not accept, to select and change. This takes consciousness, a phenomenology of likes and dislikes, and Type II cognition—a coherence of selves, whose futures must all be optimized over. And P. K. D. is plenty clear on his feelings about dope habits: not diseases, decisions, junkies as kids who choose to play in the street, who even seeing traffic coming choose not to step aside. The cost is always too high and never fair, but the cause is not mysterious.
A Scanner Darkly charts Arctor’s descent into schizo-land, his hemispheres slowly splitting. His perception and memory decline, the Venn identities drift away from each other. These things don’t just happen on their own. The obvious culprit is Substance D, lethal opioid and neural degenerative. But there’s always an extra layer of logic with Dick: allusions of conspiracy, a psychic-symbolic logic.
So let’s pay attention to when the split happens. After all, a distinction is made from the novel’s beginning between Bob Arctor, Substance D junkie and aspiring dealer, and Fred, the pseudonymous agent working narcotics. But it’s the kind of split most of us encounter ourselves, the divide between private and institutional selves, or more accurately, two roles-as-selves. In an anti-drug speech for the Anaheim Lions Club, the novel’s naming scheme toggles as Arctor/Fred alternates in and out of personal opinions, public utterances, and forgotten speech lines: Fred, Robert Arctor, whatever. Internally, Arctor/Fred can distinguish between the identities while understanding their underlying gestalt, the way that internal contradictions between them—distinct agendas, opinions, self-representations—are reconciled by a meta identity, the same way all of us do everyday. Don’t tell bosswoman your real feelings about the mission statement; feign interest in your colleague’s disintegrating marriage.
As time goes on, Arctor-as-Fred gets information from the outside that Arctor, the Arctor whose drugged-up life has become increasingly foggy to an amnesiac Fred, might be a very bad guy. Fred’s credulousness is exacerbated by the effects of junkiedom—his vision is murkier than most—but the underlying condition of limited knowledge, Dick argues, is the human condition.
And it’s this moment that Arctor’s hemispheres start skewing.
੪: I have interpersonal difficulty on psychedelics, less theory of mind than pacing—without good priors, there’s no way to keep up with the permutations of face and tone.
Ф: this is my experience with stimulant paranoia: it’s not gazing at an oil-on-skin portrait that sends me into the abyss, but the unreplayable look and look away.
Arctor-as-Fred becomes paranoid-schizophrenic, instigated by the suspicions of his superiors and catalyzed by drug fugue, that there’s something about himself he doesn’t realize, something others see in him he’s unable to. Watching his Arctor alter-ego on surveillance cameras after-the-fact, Arctor-as-Fred is increasingly unable to remember from the first-person the behavior he’s now viewing from above. In this vacuum of information he generates increasingly paranoid theories for the behavior. After arriving home one night, Fred, undercover as Arctor, has taken a book off the shelf at random, and as if possessed, begins quoting from Faust: Weh! steck’ ich in dem Kerker noch? Verfluchtes dumpfes Mauerloch. Days later, as Fred watches this Arctor like a stranger on the holotapes, he thinks: What is Arctor doing?… those sentences Arctor spoke aloud could be a voice command to some electronic hardware he’d installed in the house… Maybe even create an interference field against scanning...
All he’d ever hoped for from those tapes was objectivity. The Sheriff’s department had taken a special interest in Arctor; they no doubt had reasons which he knew nothing about, he reasons—after all, it had cost the department a bundle to install the holo-scanners in Arctor’s house, and to pay him to analyze the print-outs. This interest mirrors that of his mentally unstable roomie Jim Barris, who has been increasingly aggressive towards/ suspicious of Arctor. Was it possible, that the attention was justified? Once [Fred] saw something on the holo-scanners, however, some enigmatic or suspicious behavior on Arctor’s part, then a three-point fix would exist on him, a third verification of the other’s interests… The fantasy reel plays. In a flight of lucidity, he returns to himself. What the hell am I talking about? I must be nuts. I know Bob Arctor; he’s a good person. He’s up to nothing… In fact… he works for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
Instead of clarifying things, this “all-seeing” eye provides no information at all. Human reality is social reality, and social reality is the emergent property of many unknowable minds. From the outside, you know little concretely, can only depend on heuristics and proxies, correlations between actions and self-represented externalities, to get at the internal. It’s in keeping with this that Donna, Arctor’s love interest for the duration of the novel, is revealed in the final chapters as herself undercover, unbeknownst to Bob. Her outward appearance, the smiling, unshakeable, meaning-bearing warmth, which constitutes the core of Arctor’s attraction toward her, is revealed as a type of hologram, an analogue of his scramble suit. Arctor catches it glitch, one night, while sleeping beside her: the face flickers for a second, changes form. That much, at least, is caught on tape to confirm his glancing impression.
Eventually, Fred as an identity has completely dissociated from Arctor, is actively attempting to get Arctor locked away, convinced he may be an agent of a foreign government. Before getting locked up and force-rehabilitated, addled out of his mind—the drug reduces subject-agents to passive objects—it’s revealed by his commanding officer that the wiretapping was a setup to begin with, a ploy to observe Arctor’s unhinged roommate Jim Barris. Bob was never himself a suspect, just collateral damage. Even in rehab, Fred—so gone he has forgotten his own name, and been re-christened Bruce—continues to be manipulated, acting as the unthinking eye of the federales, reporting on the New Path org that runs it.
What is paranoia? Overactive pattern-matching, i.e. the natural state of man in the face of high ambiguity and ambient risk. A natural mental state of limited knowledge.
I’m a softie for when novels show their hand. That moment is usually the in-text referent from which the title has been pulled. Part, whole, metonymy.
What does the scanner see? [Arctor] asked himself. I mean really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner like they used to use or a cube-type holoscanner like they use these days, the latest thing, see into me—into us—clearly or darkly?… I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone’s sake, the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually… knowing very little and getting that fragment wrong too.
The “scanner darkly” comes from the Apostle Paul’s “glass darkly,” and the way it’s used in the novel parallels that of the Apostle: βλέπομεν γὰρ ἄρτι δι’ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι. For now we see through a glass, darkly. Limited knowledge and distorted sight as fundamental properties of the human condition. Now I know in part; then—it is always unspecified, indeterminate—I’ll fully know.
Revisit Arctor’s speech, littered with Faust, which Arctor-as-Fred believes, watching the holotapes, to be a set of codewords, part of a technology to interfere with the surveillance scans. He’s right, in a way; the institutional lens (audie genre expectation) of Arctor as junkie-dealer leaves no room for the speech to be received at face, may as well be gibberish.
[Arctor] said aloud, as if reading to himself from the book, as if quoting from some famous old-time double-dome philosopher, which he was not: «Any given man sees only a tiny portion of the total truth, and very often, in fact almost perpetually, he deliberately deceives himself about that little precious fragment as well. A portion of him turns against him and acts like another person, defeating him from inside. A man inside a man. Which is no man at all.»
Later on, when Fred’s wearing his scramble suit—a police cloaking device where the face constantly morphs and changes, never stable—in the Sheriff’s office, he’s spaces out and starts checking out a secretary; she notices. Aren’t you Pete Wickam? she asks, guessing he’s suited-up colleague of hers, one more case in a long chain of muddled identities. Fred goes along with it, asks if he, Pete, has a chance. The chica—Ellen—dodges, heads off to the cafeteria and has lunch with her girlfriend, but after some time passes, the gf approaches our still-scrambled protagonist. «Um, Pete» she said nervously. «Ellen wanted to tell you this, but she chickened out. Pete, she would have gone out with you a long time ago, like maybe a month ago, like back in March even. If—» «If what?» he said. «Well, she wanted me to tell you that for some time… you’d do a whole lot better if you used like, say, Scope.»
Pseudo-Pete’s been given what real Pete never will. An outside view. As Fred drags himself to an impending meeting, revealing the clinical evaluation results which will send him to New Path for rehab, he thinks, If there was a drugstore in this building I could get a bottle and use it… maybe I’d feel more confident… I could use anything that’d help anything at all. Any hint, like from that girl, any suggestion (emphasis mine). The line here is from drugs → confidence, and from outside view → insight → confidence, which makes the two similar on a central axis: as palliatives for the anxiety of knowing too little. Your standard Fristonian, Clarkean, predictive, whatever, angle concurs: anxiety is the condition of a predictive system experiencing high entropy; top-down beliefs, passed on from superiors or social circles, waterfall to lower levels and alter one’s sense perceptions, either clarifying or distorting them. The problem is knowing the difference.
Mark Fisher: According to [Brian] McHale, modernist works were those with a “epistemological” dominant (concerned with such questions as: «How can I interpret this world of which I am a part?»)… concerned with unreliable narrators and partial perspectives.
Limited knowledge is not just a human condition; it’s exacerbated in those at the bottom rungs of the institution ladder, workers who see some part of the problem but never the whole. It’s a bureaucratic malady, cue the Kafka. We are constantly on the outside, in the dark. Insiders make decisions, and we offer opinions, but are those opinions informed? The police commissioner in “The Minority Report,” explaining the precogs’s role in crime prevention: We get their prophecies. They pass on what we need. They don’t understand any of it, but we do.
Or cue Faust. Quoted in the Dick: I resemble the worm which crawls through dust, / Lives in the dust, eats dust / Until a passerby’s foot crushes it.
੪: The culture breeds self-loathing from the internalized possibility that its character accus/assasin-ations may in fact be true. That its knows you better than you know yourself. Because you’re still young, and you haven’t had time to know yourself either.
We’ve hit against an interminable conflict: outside vs. inside view. I get it wrong constantly, you get it wrong constantly, society and government and experts get it wrong constantly. We have a host of psych experiments, replication status TBD, demonstrating that people tend to overestimate their competence, that the level of complexity of a problem only reveals itself with adequate knowledge of the problem in the first place (unknown unknowns).
We also have a host of studies showing humans constantly defer. That sociality is fundamental to epistemology and consciousness. I’ll just pull from my own auto-theory: 50 Swarthmore undergrads are grouped into rooms of eight. Seven designated stooges, planted and instructed; one a naive participant, blind to the deception. The room is shown three vertical reference lines of different heights, as well as a target line, and asked to match the target with a reference line of corresponding height. Tackled solo, the problem’s answerable by toddlers. Add in social pressure, the seven planted students all agreeing on the same, incorrect reference line; three-quarters of naive participants conform at least once, agreeing to an obviously wrong answer. This is on objective measures, where perception is clear (not murky), the subject is non-specialist, and the problem is simple instead of complex. In other words, the opposite of problems like morality, or self-perception, or theory of mind. Epistemological easy mode. And yet.
Human beings, especially ones who are sensitive and thoughtful and reflective, precisely because they realize the limits of subjective vision, are affected by any outside views they get. (Bad outside views, especially with a low n=, are a cause of “diffuse trauma,” in this psychoanalytic lit.) A worse Arctor could’ve made it through Scanner unscathed, held tightly to his mind, ironed out dissonance with a rigid internal rule: fuck the others. Arctor, on the other hand, enters self-reflexive mode as soon as his roommate Barris, a paranoid, unhinged, vaguely Soviet-type starts picking on him. More often, the outside views we find most persuasive, which store the power to destroy us, or let us destroy ourselves, come from two sources: expertise, and majorities (“society,” the Big Other). Maybe it’s me, the “”sensitive”” type ponders. It’s definitely them, answers your average entrepreneur/sociopath. Which is how they get shit done: impose their private realities on the world. (This also how planner types—see Louis, in Oval—screw things up.)
Start with the wisdom of crowds, and Charlan Nemeth, PhD. (See the nice invocation of expertise? Now you’ll trust me.)
Namely, there’s wisdom in the crowds only under certain circumstances. And, one of them that’s quite critical is that they need to be independent judgments. Namely, if you’ve got a bunch of people but they are all herding and following each other, that’s like equivalent to the judgment of one.
So we have one constraint: independent judgments. Timur Kuran’s concept of preference falsification plays well here.
Over at LessWrong, one of Eliezer’s better factorings is modest epistemology, a certain set of arguments like Dunning-Kruger, egoism biases, and asymmetrical experience for when one ought to defer on descriptive disagreements. By way of example, Yudkowsky reports feeling strongly, a few years back, that the Japanese treasury wasn’t issuing enough money. He’d picked up this opinion reading economists on both sides of the issue and noting that he found this class of arguments the most convincing.
one would expect the governing board of the Bank of Japan to be composed of experienced economists with specialized monetary expertise. How likely is it that any outsider would be able to spot an obvious flaw in their policy? How likely is it that someone who isn’t a professional economist (e.g., me) would be able to judge which economic critiques of the Bank of Japan were correct, or which critics were wise?
The Yud notes a couple characteristics which open up these experts to critique. First (he presses his right pointer and middle fingers against an extended left pointer) there are is small number of people (the board) making decisions, and even if outsiders could perform better at the role, they do not have access and cannot make their voice heard (high barrier of entry). This goes partway to eliminating pro-deference arguments based on market-style equilibria. Second (the hands separate, and the left middle finger extends to join it before colliding again), there are no significant incentives, beyond patriotism and altruism, for the board’s financial policies to be optimal. Three (a ring finger now) there were other experts who actively believed the B.o.J. was issuing too little money, and Yudkowsky merely sided with them. This doesn’t help Arctor, but it helps us: The ability for an outsider to effectively arbitrate, to accurately judge between two sides of an argument, is an order of magnitude easier for non-insiders than coming up with the arguments themselves. Moreover, the outsider frequently lacks skin in the game, is not predisposed to defending a pet theory, or argue on sunk cost for their years of academic research (years otherwise wasted, in an economy of scientific literature which does not value eliminated possibilities, meaning there is significant fear around pet theses being popped).
Dick’s plenty aware of the problems of uncertainty and weighing evidence. Anderton’s redemption in “The Minority Report” hinges on the majority vs. minority report, the way authoritative consensus can be less than authoritative:
«…the system of three precogs finds its genesis in the computers of the middle decades… How are the results of an electronic computer checked? By feeding data to a second computer of identical design. But two computers are not sufficient. If each computer arrived at a different answer, it is impossible to tell a priori which is correct. The solution… is to utilize a third computer to check the results of the first two. In this manner, a so-called minority report is obtained… It would not be likely tthat two computers would arrive at identically incorrect solutions.»
Ideally I’d like to think more deeply about specific situations and variables in considering the outside, in second-guessing the self, in challenging and deviating. If so that’s for another post. What’s important is that modest epistemology, and the inherent but also institutional-societal conditional of limited information, constitute a core vulnerability of the socially and institutionally situated individual (i.e. all individuals). Sometimes others do know better, we think to ourselves, before disappear from sight. Insofar as our actions are founded on priors, our lack of control over, or access to accurate, priors is operationally equivalent to powerlessness. Impotence relative to those who either know more or can plausibly claim to.
(Donna, begging Arctor to take her to the drive-ins: «I missed the last [Planet of the Apes] picture, where they reveal that all the famous people in history like Lincoln and Nero were secretly apes and running all human history from the start.»)
P. K. D.’s writings are about the powerlessness of the ever-present fog. (He doesn’t get called a poor man’s Pynchon for nothing.) It’s an organizing principle of the Dick oeuvre—an assessment I’m clearly qualified to make having read now 3 P. K. D. texts. We see it in Ubik: the beleaguered team’s resistance to the entropic force which slowly destroys them is stymied by a lack of knowledge not just as to the identity or nature of this force, but by a general lack of world-knowledge with which to operate inside the half-life dream-reality they’re trapped in. Jory, disguised child villain, is powerful because they’re playing on his terf. It takes the friendship of a local, Ellen, to balance the scales.
I’m not convinced either, so, a second example by way of The Minority Report, P.K.D.’s filmically immortalized but utterly bad (in the standard, midcentury sci-fi way) short story. Here, every narrative turn is prefigured by an update of information. Top-dog police bureaucrat Anderton, head of the Precrime unit, finds his name in the precogs’ tea leaves: they’ve got him killing a Leopold Kaplan, an obscure ex-military general Anderton’s never heard of, within the week. Sensing a conspiracy or coup, possibly between his wife and the second-in-charge Witwer, Anderton flees his Precrime dept., jets home to pack bags and head off-world. Privately, he harbors doubt. Captured in his home, he’s transported by armed sentries back to the police for detainment. One of his guards, possibly sympathetic, asks, «Just between the two of us, is there really anything to this plot stuff? Are you really being framed?» P. K. D.:
Anderton sighed. At that point he wasn’t certain, himself. Perhaps he was trapped in a closed, meaningless time-circle with no motive and no beginning. In fact, he was almost ready to concede that he was the victim of a weary, neurotic fantasy, spawned by growing insecurity. Without a fight, he was willing to give himself up. A vast weight of possible exhaustion lay upon him. He was struggling against the impossible—and all the cards were stacked against him.
It’s at this point his transport vehicle gets T-boned by a bread truck; mysterious agents hop out, freeing Anderton and handing him fake documents to safely hide out in city outskirts. Before leaving Anderton asks if he’s been framed. “Of course.” Sharply, the [agent] swore. “You mean they got you to believe it, too?” “I thought —” Anderton had trouble talking; one of his front teeth seemed to be loose. “Hostility toward Witwer… replace, my wife and a younger man, natural resentment….” He’s even been convinced he’s capable of murder. If you buy the Trivers studies that point to a brain which constantly deceives itself, of an unconscious which cats as a PR agent on selfish behalf of the Darwinian organism, this is a reasonable update. Karen Horney makes a similar argument to Trivers in 1950’s Neurosis and Human Growth, one of the rare occasions psychoanalysis is born out in scientific literature:
Finally, there are active moves again the real self, as expressed in self-hates. With the real self in exile, so to speak, one becomes a condemned convict, despised and threatened with destruction… [The neurotic] has an unconscious interest in not having a clear perception of himself —in making himself, as it were, deaf, dumb, and blind. Not only does he blur the truth about himself but he has a vested interest in doing so. The Trivers insight is that this blurring has social usefulness: the best liars are themselves internally convinced; internal coherence helps present a united front. It’s most effective to act as if.
Some couples do build private mythologies against the world together, removing themselves from this type of precarity. An internal, private culture emerges which provides shelter from the constant and implicit pressures of the Big Other. Which makes the betrayal cut all the deeper: One of the low points in Anja’s unspooling relationship with Louis comes when he brutally invokes the ªauthority of the dysfunctional social scene, of the masses, of the culture at large… to override the private contract of their relationship.»^
«Who’s behind it?» Anderton asks his rescuing agents, after confirming the conspiracy. «Your wife» they answer. Nevermind that, by story’s end, faithful Lisa is vindicated, the agents found deceitful. In the moment it’s possible. Anderton believes it. The very bedrock of his reality lies atop an ultimate unknowability.
Human reality is social reality, and social reality is the emergent property of many unknowable minds. From the outside, you know little at all, can only depend on heuristics and proxies, correlations between externalities, self-represented, and the internal. It’s in keeping with this that Donna, Arctor’s love interest for the duration of the novel, is herself undercover, unbeknownst to him.
Maybe the epistemic update as plot twist isn’t very unique to Dick. Look at Hitchcock’s cinema, or jeez, A New Hope if you’re going full genre. Manipulate a person’s priors and you manipulate their actions. But in P. K. D. we get the cognitive vacillation, hear the self-talk of a limited intelligence navigate the murk. We see from the inside how paralysis stems from not knowing. We see how sufficient contradiction between outside and inside leads individuals to lose their minds.
4Q248, one last time:
In general, humans have trouble understanding other humans… Why try to connect with another—i.e. radical alterity or outsideness as opposed to what Land refers to as alterity in advance—when you can be with yourself or people just like you (narcissism and solipsism or preoedipal conditions vs. oedipal)?
What if we considered this from the angle of informational blindness, partial vision? What if we were to understand the human being as scanner darkly proper? Not narcissism, but anxiolytic. The benzodiazepine of concordance: inside and outside as one.
Charles Freck’s just taken off from Arctor’s house, where Bob and Borris and their roomie Luckman are tensely fixing the car. Freck bounces when the vibe gets bad, cruises down the California highway playing a fantasy number in his head
He could hear music although he could not quite distinguish what track it was from what LP… «Before I die, Hendrix was muttering, «let me live my life as I want to» and then immediately the fantasy number blew up… he remembered how he’d heard that Janis’s manager had only allowed her a couple hundred bucks now and then; she couldn’t have the rest, all that she earned, because of her junk habit. And then he heard in his head her song “All Is Loneliness” and he began to cry. And in that condition he drove on toward home.
The last we hear from Freck he’s bought “large quantity” of reds—the pre-benzodiazepine tranq—and a bottle of Cab, lying in bed with a copy of Fountainhead and The Illustrated Picture Book of Sex s he waits for the pills to hit. When they do he realizes: he had been burned. The capsules were not barbiturates, as represented. They were some kind of kinky psychedelics… Instead of quietly suffocating Charles Freck began to hallucinate. The thousand-year trip begins with deity contact. The creature had many eyes, all over it… it carried an enormous scroll. «You’re going to read me my sins» Charles Freck said. The creature nodded and unsealed the scroll. A thousand miles away at New Paths, being hazed by older members, Robert Arctor gasps. «I am an eye.»